If you’ve grown up listening to a rock star, after a while their albums and concerts feel like letters or visits from an old friend. And like your friends, some musicians are content to live in the past, rehashing decades-old memories, wearing the same old clothes and hairstyle and looking more than a little sad; others insist on denying time has passed and keep up with whatever’s trendy, showing up on your doorstep with a passel of sequencers or helping a girl young enough to be his daughter out of his Porsche. On both his new album, “Strings Attached” (Sanctuary), and Friday night at the Key Club, former Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter proved to be the best type of company: a man who honors the past, is engaged in the present, and who tells stories filled with pathos and humor. In short, Ian Hunter, only 30 years older.
He’s honest about why he’s come by — he’s got a new album and DVD to flog, documenting a 2002 Oslo concert. The two-hour set basically mirrors the album, mixing the best known Mott songs with more recent material. The latter tend to wax elegiac, memorializing his youth (“23A Swan Hill”), guitarist Mick Ronson (“Michael Picasso”) and 9/11 (“Twisted Steel”).
His raspy croon of a voice has held up remarkably well, and he’s surrounded himself with a fine band, including longtime drummer Steve Holley, guitarists Marc Bosch (who plays like Mick Ralphs or Ronson as the music demands) and James Mastro (whose work on mandolin adds a lovely rustic sound) and bassist Graham Maby.
Hunter’s local perfs have been rare (he last played L.A. in 1991). A show like this can reaffirm a belief that rock can age gracefully; you hope he would come around more often.